Part of a man’s arsenal is detailed towards defending his home. The pistol is a good thing to carry while out and about, and it makes a good nightstand decoration. The rifle is for hunting and controlling a field or a street. The shotgun, however, occupies the place in between, and today we are going to talk about the very thing you want to be holding when you yank open your front door to confront whatever hell has deposited itself on your front yard: the combat shotgun.

What is a combat shotgun?

As our readers will no doubt recall from previous articles, the shotgun itself shares common roots with the rifle as both were, at one time, the same weapon. A smooth-bore musket would fire whatever you wanted down the bore, whether that be a single ball, or a pile of shot. Once rifling was developed, the idea of a single projectile took precedence over some shot, and the shotgun stayed smoothbore entirely until much later, with the advent of dedicated slug guns.

Modern shotguns developed alongside rifles with the introduction of cartridges to replace muzzleloading around the end of the Civil War, and smokeless powder to replace black powder. As these technologies evolved, certain shotguns were modified for close-up, non-hunting use.

Externally hammered Winchester side by side double barrel shotgun.

Beginning with the so called “coach gun” and continuing with first and second World War trench guns, a shotgun evolved for use in fighting situations. These had characteristics unique to the idea, and the primary one is that they are short compared to a field wing shooting shotgun. Robust actions, the ability to carry more ammo on and in the gun, rifle or carbine style sights, and some differences in furniture, finish and accessories add together to make a completely different beast.

Winchester 1897 shotgun in “trench gun” configuration. Note the barrel shroud, short barrel, and bayonet system.

Other names for this type of shotgun are the previously mentioned trench gun, riot shotgun, military shotgun, tactical shotgun, LEO (law enforcement officer) shotgun, and I’m sure there’s others, but the idea is to differentiate it from a traditional or hunting shotgun. Let’s talk particulars.

Action

Although it’s arguable that the double barreled break action was the first one that got converted for anti-bandito use, and, while there ARE some double barreled tactical-ed up shotguns out there today, it’s not common. The lever action isn’t used any more in shotguns due to lack of strength, and there’s few bolt actions.

There’s two ways to go: slide (pump) action, and semi-automatic (of either the recoil driven or gas driven varieties). Both have advantages and disadvantages.

The pump shotgun, in a tactical role, is a very reliable design, provided the operator runs the gun correctly and doesn’t stop in between strokes of running the action (some models will drop the shell on the ground if you do that) or “short stroke” and not fully actuate the mechanism. They’re generally cheaper, don’t care what power shell you run in them, and make that cool noise.

We’re a long way from a Wingmaster, but that IS a Remington 870 under all that tactical stuff.

Being lighter, and not using any of the recoil to run the action, they will punish your shoulder more than semi-autos, and you DO have to run the action yourself, which means longer time between shots, and making it harder to re-aim for follow up shots. You can leave them without a round in the chamber for safety, and leave the safety off, thus enabling you to rack and go.

Do not, however, and I repeat DO NOT, think you can sneak up on some home invader and rack the slide and scare him off. Either you have an empty gun to start with, or you chuck good ammo on the ground, while taking your aim off the bad guy. The proper way to scare a home invader off that is in your home is point the gun at him, announce that you have a gun and you’ll shoot, and, unless he immediately surrenders and drops weapon, hose him. Or just hose him preemptively; if he’s in your house with a weapon, you are legally allowed to do so.

Semi-automatics are the other alternative. Recoil operated, or inertia operated, shotguns are still very popular; they’re simple, light, and will hammer you about as hard as a pump, but, making a bit of a generalization here, they are primarily hunting based weapons these days.

Most combat semi-autos are gas driven, and they use the same style system initially pioneered in the M1 Garand where a little bit of gas is bled off through a hole in the barrel to drive a piston which will, in turn, run the bolt for you. They’re heavier, and they mitigate recoil through that weight and by eating some of the recoil in the actuation of the action. They do, however, shit where they eat, although not as bad as a direct impingement gun like the AR platform, so you will need to clean them more often.

A Benelli M4, with optic, full length mag tube, pistol grip, and collapsible stock.

One big disadvantage of gas powered semi-auto shotguns (that you don’t see in rifles) is that they have to reliably cycle with a variety of loads. Your gun needs to cycle with low brass #8 birdshot 2 and 3/4 shells, but not have a high-speed come apart when you fire 3.5 inch magnum buck through it. Recoil driven shotguns just take it all, there isn’t that much difference in recoil between those two examples to matter, but gas systems have to be set up to use all the gas power on low power shells, but meter some of it on high power ones so as to not blow the gun up. This is done via an adjustable gas plug near the gas port in the barrel, or the gas pistons are set up with valves to bleed off the excess automatically.

This is a Saiga. The ringed thing is the piston, and the threaded thing is the gas plug. Note the two slots in it (1 and 2) and the pushpin on the gun. The tapered end is down when the pin is at 2 for full power, and the plug blocks half the gas when it is flipped over at 1, for half power when you are using magnum rounds.

Either is fine for your use in a combat shotgun.

Magazines and shell carriers

Shotgun shells are big. They’re not necessarily longer than a lot of rifle rounds, but they are much fatter, which makes stacking them sideways, like most rifles and pistols, to be a bit of a challenge. Some guns, like the Saiga series of Kalashnikov shotguns, just shrug, slam some vodka, and run around with a foot long 10 round box mag hanging out of the bottom of the receiver (or a 12 or 20 round drum), but most shotguns, including combat shotguns, stick with the traditional underhung linear tube mag under the barrel inside the forearm.

That mag holds TEN (10) and only ten rounds. Saigas are some of the only box mag shotguns out there, being Kalashnikovs, and they are the ONLY gun old B-Rock Obama managed to ban from further importing.

One thing that does typically get changed is that your normal shotgun has a 5 round tube mag when you’re using 2 and 3/4 inch shells (less with longer ones) and they come with a plug to limit you to 3 shells total in the gun while hunting (which you can, of course, remove). The combat shotgun runs that tube mag out to the end of the barrel to pick up a couple extra shells. Add to that carrying one in the pipe, and occasionally some creative loading practices like Benelli’s “ghost loading,” and you can get that up to 9 shells in the gun.

Mag extension

The next step is more of an accessory, but it is for ammunition carrying. Shell holders can be mounted to the left side of the receiver (opposite the action’s port) and can carry 4-6 rounds. Butt sleeves with loops for shells can be strapped around the buttstock and give you about the same once again. While the tube mags are beneficial in that they can be topped off while still keeping the gun loaded, they do take practice to load quickly and smoothly while staying on target. Practice a lot.

This shotgun has both a receiver shell carrier and a buttstock sleeve shell carrier, and is a good example of tasteful and useful customization, without going full retard.

Sights

Sights on a shotgun are typically a different beast than your typical rifle irons. A single bead at the end of the barrel, sometimes with a pin a little closer in, are all the traditional shotgun has, and one aligns either the top of the barrel’s cylinder, or a flat sighting rib, with the center of your eye, and you simply point the bead at your target. Many targets for shotgun sport shooting are moving, and the idea is to instinctively point the gun and punch the trigger as you arc your aim following the flying bird.

Rifle sights, at least classic irons, are set up to give you a little more detail that would normally be blocked out by the barrel underneath the target. This is also why field shotguns will often pattern a little higher than dead center on the bead, it allows you to aim lower and see more. The concept is that, with the front sight higher than the barrel, you can see more of the target, but you also now require a rear sight of some sort.

Benelli “ghost ring.” Note that the rear aperture is almost not there, it’s almost just a suggestion. The white dots line up with one on the front, and are tritium night sights.

A popular combat shotgun sight is the “ghost ring” which is a very wide aperture sight that is a thin ring. It allows you to line the back end of the shotgun with the front sight while allowing your field of view to be unobstructed. On the optic side, red dots, lasers, and small magnification scopes are frequently used. The takeaway is to use sights like a carbine rifle would, while making sure they can handle 12 gauge recoil.

Furniture and accessories

Although the original riot and trench guns had wooden furniture (stock and forearm) on them, often with a simple metal perforated screen for a barrel heat shroud, modern combat shotguns are almost always equipped with black polymer furniture. This helps in a few ways, mainly by being weather resistant and allowing a few more options.

Collapsible, or folding, stocks are common, as well as pistol grips. I don’t see a whole lot of vertical fore ends on combat shotguns, unless someone is doing a classic wood  furniture Saiga conversion and wants to use a “donkey dick” fore end. Some will use a “hand stop” style of device that lets your support hand have something to push up against while holding the normal forearm.

The only dick that will ever show up in my articles ever: the classic AK-47 wooden vertical fore-grip; the donkey dick.

Like all close action modern guns, rails are in. Whether you want a shell holder, a light, a laser, the hand assist mentioned previously, an optic that can be quickly taken off, sling attachments, or all of the above, the Picatinny rail system is where it’s at, and you can tune to your taste. Personally, I’m a bit of a minimalist, but having an optic rail is very nice, and a light is the next thing I’d go for, especially if you already have some sort of night sight.

A sling is a must on any sort of working gun, because there will be times you need to stow that thing while doing something else. Rifle sling marksmanship can also apply to the combat shotgun.

This one is getting a little intense, but is usable with enough practice. It has: light, rails, two different ammo stores, foreend hand stop, optic, mag extension, a “door breacher” muzzle attachment, barrel shroud, and customized riser on the stock.

Lastly, a word on chokes. Most modern shotguns come with internal (the tube sits in the barrel) and external (the tube screws onto the end of the barrel) chokes. Do not shoot an internal choke gun without a choke. Do not run around without at least a thread protector on an external choke gun.

Combat chokes are one of two extremes. Run a full, or extra full, choke for buckshot (and do NOT shoot anything less than buck at a human target, bird shot is stupid, and rock salt might get you legally in trouble, as they might say you didn’t think he was scary enough to kill him, but shot him anyway), and run a cylinder (or open cylinder, or “slug”) choke for slugs. You want full choke to keep the buckshot concentrated, and you want an open choke for the slug so it doesn’t bind up passing through the tighter coke, which hurts the gun and the accuracy of the shot.

Choke recap.

Conclusion

Combat shotguns are fun and useful, and they serve a nice niche between your pistol and carbine. You can protect your home, make a statement by really wrecking something, and participate in things like 3 gun for fun. The best book I have seen on running a combat shotgun, although it is a little dated, is Massad Ayoob’s Stressfire II: Advanced Combat Shotgun, if you want to learn how. Be safe.

Read More: 5 Firearms A Man Should Own